The New Mexico Stars will be entering their third pro indoor football season next winter/spring with a new coach, new ownership group and a new quarterback. It shouldn’t take too long for them to gauge their process once the season kicks in.
For the second straight year, the Stars will be playing a 12-game season in the Lone Star Football League, with six games at home in Rio Rancho’s Santa Ana Star Center.
Probably no game will be more important than their opener Friday, March 14, against the visiting Amarillo Venom, the league’s two-time defending champion.
“Right off Jump Street, win or lose, we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves,” said the Stars’ Domonic Bramante, the first Native American to be head coach of a pro indoor football team. “They’ve had this thing down the past couple of years, so what better way to start out than by playing the best.”
It will be one of four meetings for the Stars against a team that defeated them in all three meetings last year. New Mexico finished the season at 6-6 and earned a playoff berth.
The five-team league had somewhat of a face-lift with the addition of the West Texas Wildcatters, who are based in Odessa, and the Rio Grande Valley Sol, which call McAllen, Texas, home. Disbanding are the Laredo Rattlesnakes. Then, in early October, the Abilene Bombers announced they were opting to sit out this season and attempt a return in 2015.
League Commissioner Darlene Jones said Abilene’s departure caught her off guard.
“It was definitely a shock in my opinion with Abilene, but they probably made a very good decision,” she said of the team’s choice to go dark for 2014 after late upheaval with the coaching staff and in ownership. “They said they want to be back next year, and since they’re not selling things off, I believe them.”
Bramante said he isn’t concerned how many teams are in the league.
“Whether there’s 20 teams or four teams, I couldn’t care less,” he said. “Our goal is still the same: We want to win the league championship and try to develop a bigger following for the Stars in the Albuquerque market.”
To that end, Bramante has loaded the roster with talent from the University of New Mexico and from the metro area, including QB Donovan Porterie, a four-year starter for the Lobos from 2006-09.
Two of Bramante’s most recent signees also have local connections:
Carl Winston III, who was primarily a running back at Washington State from 2009-12, is the son of Carl Winston II, who was a receiver for the Lobos from 1990-93 and once caught a pass in 46 straight games, which was then an NCAA record.
Also in the fold is Jesse Paulsen, a Manzano High product who originally was a preferred walk-on at UNM before transferring to Oklahoma, where he eventually earned a scholarship. Paulsen’s father, Mark, spent 25 years as the Lobos’ strength and conditioning coach.
Winston said he was washing his car one day when Bramante reached out to him.
“It was crazy, but when I was checking voice mail I saw it was coach Bramante,” Winston said. “He had heard about me from a mutual friend, and we talked for like an hour.
“I’m going to be pretty much a playmaker, play slot receiver and bring a different dimension to the offense.”
Paulsen is fresh off a tryout with Ottawa of the Canadian Football League and previously was in the Cincinnati Bengals’ rookie camp. He was “discovered” by Bramante while Paulsen was throwing the ball around with Porterie.
“Coach came up and asked me if I wanted to play for his team,” Paulsen said. “I talked to him for a long time and respected him and feel he has the right connections.”
Those connections include being a close friend of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
“I’m running and training every day,” Paulsen said. “I want to try to play offense and defense – corner, safety, wherever I can make the biggest impact. (Bramante) said he wants me to rush the passer a lot, blitz, do all kinds of stuff.”
GONE: Quarterback Kasey Peters, who joined the Stars midway in the 2013 season and went on to earn league co-MVP honors, left the team and has signed with West Texas. The league website lists him with 49 TDs and three interceptions last year.
TRAINING CAMP: The Stars are scheduled to open preseason drills Feb. 28 at a site to be determined. Bramante said he plans to bring 40 players to camp. That number eventually will be whittled to 23, with 18 on the active roster and five inactives.
New Mexico Stars 2014 schedule
(Home games at San Ana Star Center)
Friday, March 14: Amarillo Venom
Saturday, March 29: West Texas Wildcatters
Sunday, April 6: at Rio Grande Valley Sol
Saturday, April 12: at San Angelo Bandits
Saturday, April 19: Amarillo Venom
Saturday, May 3: at Amarillo Venom
Saturday, May 10: at West Texas Wildcatters
Saturday, May 17: Rio Grande Valley Sol
Saturday, May 24: at Amarillo Venom
Saturday, May 31: San Angelo Bandits
Saturday, June 14: at West Texas Wildcatters
Saturday, June 21: Rio Grande Valley